Introduction: Writing based on Reading

Notice the title of this page: Writing based on reading. The word choice is conscious, to indicate the widest possible range of writing based on ideas that you read. On the other hand, a title such as writing about reading could imply the expectation that you have to confine your writing to reactions about the content or presentation of a particular text. That’s one type of writing based on reading, but not the only type. And, from just reading this paragraph, you should get the idea that writing based on reading is not merely your re-statement or report of what’s in the text; instead, it is a presentation of your own thoughts which result from reading a text.

There are many possible ways to write based on a text, ranging from more personal to more analytical:

Personal write about an idea that occurred to you based on an association between the topic of the text and your own background knowledge
write based on an experience or other association that a text’s topic or content triggered
react to the text’s main idea or to a supporting idea – what do you, personally, think about the idea?
Spanning personal and analytical apply a concept or theory from the text to a new or different situation
Analytical analyze the logic of a text’s ideas to evaluate its quality
analyze how the author presents ideas in the text (word choice, sentence structure, organization)
analyze a text based on your understanding of a field of knowledge
compare the text with other texts
and more…

Writing for College: Essays

Much of the writing you do for college will be in the form of essays. An essay is a piece of writing that attempts to explain something, or analyze something, or present an author’s insight. These words—“attempt,” “explain,” “analyze,” “author’s insight”—should already give you the idea that an essay’s purpose is not simply to inform (e.g., describe the events of the first moon landing for the U.S.). Rather, an essay’s purpose, especially in an academic setting, is to provide a written explanation of your own ideas, interpretations, insights, and evaluations (e.g., why the first moon landing by the U.S. was important to our economy, or how the first moon landing influenced architectural design in the 1960s, or what the effects of the first moon landing were on foreign relations). It’s your thinking and viewpoint that are important in essay writing; an essay offers your direct reflection on, or analysis of, a focused topic.

College writing often involves essay writing because the very purpose of a college education is to further develop your thinking skills, foster new insights and interpretations, create and analyze an argument in terms of appropriate evidence, question concepts, and provide your own interpretation of ideas. Essays help you do that—writing an essay, based on your ideas, often helps you formulate those ideas as well.

And That’s Where Reading Skills Come In…

When you write essays based on reading, this is where the skills and strategies for understanding a text come into play. For example, considering your own background and relationship to the topic of a text will help you activate your own thoughts and experiences about that topic. Summarizing either sections of a text or a whole text will help you crystallize and articulate the text’s ideas so that you can explore them further. Annotating a text as you read helps you record your own thoughts. Looking at any questions you noted will help you consider if they were answered by your reading of the text, or if the text itself generated new questions that you want to explore. Noticing the logic of a text’s argument will help you decide what you think about that argument. Reading and writing support one another, as they both have the end goal of activating and articulating your own thoughts.

Go back to the concept of reading as joining a conversation. When you write, you also join a conversation with the text that you’ve read and with others who have written about the same ideas. As a writer, you don’t offer your ideas in an enormous blank room where no one else exists and nothing else has ever happened. Instead, you offer your ideas in the real world where people with other opinions, values, beliefs, and experiences live. Those are the larger conversations you’ll participate in as you write based on texts in psychology, business management, literature, history…whatever your specific academic focus is in, and whatever text you’re reading at the moment. Essay writing is one way of participating in that conversation.

The video below offers some thoughts on the relationship between reading and writing.

try it

Read the article “How Crisco Toppled Lard – and Made Americans Believers in Industrial Food” by Helen Zoe Veit. (Note that this article is the basis for other Try It exercises in this section of the text.)

Then answer this question: Identify as many possible perspectives that you can think of to write based on this text, from personal to analytical.  (answers will vary)